Article: Premier League 2020-21 Law Changes, Preview & Predictions

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By Brian Beard | 17th AUG 2020

Before taking a look at the prospects for the Premier League teams ahead of the season which starts – quick look at watch rather than calendar- very soon, its time to take a look at the rule changes that will come into action when the first all is kicked. And a gold star for anyone who has looked through the plethora of rule changes, tweaks, word changes and can still think straight.

I’m not sure what colour star, if any, should go to the IFAB –International Football Association Board, for their `Lowry-like` matchstick man drawing that accompanies their top rule change – HANDBALL. #


If the ball strikes the RED zone – handball

If the ball strikes the GREEN zone – no handball

Well, unless my eyes deceive me the shoulder should end at, er, the shoulder, not several inches down the arm. So, unless players wear shirts with `zoned` areas on the upper sleeves, we are hardly moving on from subjectivity. And of course there is still the question of whether the player has made himself BIGGER.

Apparently, penalties will only be given for handball IF a goal results from such an action. And in all my scouring of official sources, including IFAB, the most telling phrase is….

“The wording for handball has been made clearer.” Has it?

One rule change that will not take place is the contentious matter of five substitutes. I`m sure Jamie Carragher and Gary Neville will be delighted that Premier League clubs decided to vote against that particular innovation that was introduced for Project Restart.

Penalties will no longer be retaken if the goalkeeper infringes in the build-up to the taking of a spot-kick. A goalkeeper offence, apparently, must clearly affect the penalty taker for a spot-kick to be retaken, if missed. A goalkeeper moving off his line before a penalty is taken will only be penalised if the penalty is saved. Should the kick be missed, off target, off the post or bar or over the bar then the kick will NOT be retaken, regardless of any movement by the `keeper. In my view, if any miss is as a consequence of goalie shenanigans surely that defeats the whole object, the clue being in the word PENALTY – ie offending party should be penalised? Then we move into the realms of encroachment.

Most encroachment results from miss-anticipation, by the `keeper, when the ball is kicked. If the `keeper moves he will be warned for a first offence but must be cautioned for any further offences at the retaken kick and/or any subsequent kick. When the goalkeeper and the kicker offend at the same time the kicker should be penalised as it is the `illegal` feinting that causes the goalkeeper`s encroachment.

See what I mean?

What is clearer is that referees will use pitch-side monitors more often during matches after video-assistants having been guilty of taking too long or simply getting calls wrong.

And players who do not respect the four meter rule at a drop-ball must be cautioned – yellow card to you and me.

Oh, nearly forgot, no attacking players in walls at free-kicks. It seems as though these new rules are as clear as how to bet on sports online.

There, told you it was clear, didn’t I?

Season 2020-21 Premier League Preview

Liverpool topped the table so I am going against Miss World tradition and starting at the top.

I think, like London buses, after waiting so long, Liverpool will be strong favourites to retain their title. And it`s an assessment that isn’t really based on the top-quality players who fired them to the title it is a philosophy, an ethos, instilled in the squad by Jurgen Klopp to which all the players ascribed.

I can`t recall a team in the Premier League era that has better epitomised the team ethic of everyone working for the common good. However the current squad still lags a tiny bit behind Manchester City in terms of depth of quality outside a recognised starting eleven.

I wonder what Jurgen has in mind re Rhian Brewster who had such a wonderful loan spell at Swansea. Adding his potential contribution to the `Holy Trinity` strike force, wow, that would be something to behold. I think a versatile midfielder who can also fill in at the back plus a goal-scoring midfielder is all this squad needs to dominate for several years to come although the `Ox` could be that man.

Manchester City’s biggest problem is replacing David Silva but on the plus side they have, arguably, the best midfield player in the world, Kevin De Bruyne. Not only does he have everything in his locker a midfielder can possibly want but he possesses those attributes at the very highest level, all of them.

He can pass, shoot, head, run, his vision is without parallel and although he isn`t the best tackler in the world he doesn`t have to be. Pep has also pulled off a master-stroke in signing Nathan Ake. That lad was a Ruud Gullit in the making when he was 16, now 25 and with well over a hundred Premier League appearances behind him, all he needs is a quality partner at the heart of the City defence and City could push Liverpool a lot closer in the coming campaign.

Manchester United finished third and gained entry to the Holy Grail of the UCL but look at the 30 point gap between them and Liverpool. At the time of writing talks were almost complete regarding Jadon Sancho and interest cooled on Jack Grealish although the Villa man might have been a better fit at OT. Bruno Fernandes brightened up the Premier League following his arrival and livened up United to their best finish for years but will Sancho have a similar effect?

When I see United in action I can`t help but feel too many of their talented forward-looking players, are selective in their application come match day. I am not saying they intentionally don`t try but the one common factor with them is youth. Youth needs guidance and there isn`t too much of that on the field in a red shirt. A quicker, pacier, Matic type might be all they require, Oh, I think I have just described Jack Grealish or what Pogba should be.

I honestly don`t think United will be able to match third place come the end of the next campaign.

Chelsea were pipped to third place by their own failings towards the end of the season as much as by United`s surge in form but they are in a good position to build on Frank Lampard`s first season because they have a squad similar to Manchester United in terms of youth and experience although it’s the experience at the Bridge that puts Chelsea the ahead of United.

Chelsea have already brought in Hakim Ziyech and the impressive Timo Werner, from RB Leipzig to add to an already impressive squad but the team still needs a dominant centre half and a goalkeeper. You have to go down as far as 11th place and Southampton to find a team that conceded more than the 54 goals Chelsea conceded and while you cannot lay all the blame in the gloves – he`d probably drop it anyway- of Kepa Arrizabalaga he was culpable too often.

It wasn`t so much the high-profile errors but the peripheral aspects of the goalkeeper’s art at which he is sadly lacking in the basics. At the very highest level, and the Premier League is about as high as you can get, a mistake is not only costly but the reverberations throughout the team can have dire consequences.

Another couple of signings, as well as keeping people like Giroud and Azpilicueta happy will go a long way in what should be a good tilt at the title.

Leicester City are I believe at a more important cross-roads than they were at in the season following their title win. For so long in the campaign just finished they were strolling towards Champions` League qualification but then the heady atmosphere of third place got to them and they won just two of their last 10 games. Their strength in depth was called into question and they really missed the late season absence of James Maddison. Even experienced stalwarts like Jonny Evans began to make elementary mistakes following Project Restart and when Kasper Schmeichel starts making uncharacteristic errors Foxes fans really start to worry.

The honeymoon period under Brendan Rogers is over and while Jamie Vardy won The Golden Boot and is as whippet-like as ever, he is 33 and cannot carry the team alone With Spurs, Wolves and Arsenal as their nearest rivals I don`t think City will finish I the top six come May.

I`m not sure about Tottenham Hotspur and I have a hunch that Jose has got something up his sleeve other than his arm that is usually employed, most seasons, at picking up a trophy or several. Harry is back and Son is still probably the most underrated striker in the top flight.

Giovani Lo Celso has impressed in recent months and Lucas Moura has almost regained his form when he first arrived on the scene. Which Dele Alli will we see at the start of the campaign, and what will Jose do, with regards to revitalising a creaking defence? Those are two critical questions Tottenham fans, and Daniel Levy, will want good answers to.

More than capable of top six, top four may be beyond them.

Wolverhampton Wanderers are still the team, after Liverpool and Man City, I prefer to watch. After their disappointing end to the season which left them out of contention for UCL I hope for their sake and their manager and fans that Europa League success is around the corner because the strides the club has made under Nuno deserves Champions` League football. I think they could even afford to lose one or two of their star players, Raul Jimenez looking likely to head for Juventus, because Espirito Santo keeps finding nuggets and turning  them into Premier League stars. I think Wolves could, with a bit of good fortune and the kind of football they play are more than capable of a Top Four finish.

Arsenal won the FA Cup and added a decent sized cherry on top of a very, very small, cup-cake, 8th place in the Premier League, their worst finish in 15 years. Cards on the table here, or at least just about in the top ten of the table, I despise lazy players. I abhor lazy, talented players even more and Arsenal`s plight in recent years was built upon lazy players.

I cannot but think, most times when I watch Arsenal, which isn`t often, I wonder why Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere are missing. Oh, yes, Aaron went off to win Serie A with Ronaldo and Jack`s injury ravaged career has seen him end up at West Ham. But it is the combative, 100% effort those players brought to an Arsenal shirt that is no longer there. Without it coming back I cannot see too many more cherries at the Emirates in the foreseeable future.

Sheffield United deserved more than their eventual ninth place finish but unfortunately their momentum just disappeared, after the restart. They will be forever grateful at the points they did accrue before Christmas and I think Chris Wilder will have learnt one very valuable, and eventually costly, lesson. He needs more Premier League savvy in his squad. To a man they played above and beyond for eight months of a12 month season. They will benefit from that experience and the addition of two or three experienced Premier League players, of the right character, Wilder doesn`t do any other type, will ensure a few more top flight seasons ahead. A top ten finish again for the Blades.

Burnley`s biggest problem will be hanging on to Sean Dyche who, if he wasn`t a football manager would be a member of the Magic Circle because doing what he has done at Turf Moor is up there with Derren Brown and Tommy Cooper – the extremes are intentional.

Sean may not be the world`s greatest tactician but he gets his players to do their best, most of the time, and the Burnley fans get yet another Premier League season. The day may come though when a top club, with all due respect, comes calling, and wonders what Mr Dyche could do with a proper budget and even better players and gives him that opportunity.

With Sean in charge I expect Burnley to better 10th place. Without him I would still expect mid-table.

Southampton`s escape from relegation that won their coach Manager of the Month shows that they are capable of Premier League football but the season lasts, normally, just over nine months. And the team needs to show the same kind of consistency and application that Danny Ings shows every time he puts on a pair of football boots. It never ceases to amaze me that professional footballers, a lot of them, not all, can play a game of football without giving 100%, a hundred percent of the time.

Saints flirted with relegation and got away with it. They may not be so lucky next time. Mid-table finish, maybe.

Everton may have a state of the art training ground and may be planning a state of the art stadium but unless they up the ante as far as the squad that will train down the docks and play at the new stadium, they could face a relegation battle in the new campaign.

It`s very rare that a club has a much better manager than their team but that is the case at Everton. I wonder how long Carlo Ancelotti, the man who invented the phrase `serial winner` will tolerate the below par performances many of his players have served up over the past 12 months.

Top 10 finish would be regarded as an improvement.

Newcastle United. Not too sure how to approach this one. Who will own the club come the start of the season? Who will be manager? What players will be there and who will come in? That`s pretty much all that can be said about a club/potential owners who can`t seem to make up their mind. For once I feel sorry for Steve Bruce. How on earth can he plan for kick-off when the previously stated questions remain unanswered.

If they can match 13th place next season that will be a result.

Crystal Palace. Roy Hodgson is another prospective member of the Magic Circle for the miracles he keeps coming up with at Selhurst Park.

I know few people subscribe to the `one man does not make a team` concept but when that one man is Wilfried Zaha the rule does not apply. Still only 27 he deserves and has earned the right to play for a much better team. There are few players outside the top six clubs in the Premier League who could play their way into a Real Madrid or Barca side, Zaha is one of those players. It looks like he is going to get his wish to move from Palace. I hope Roy uses the transfer fee wisely because the team will struggle without Wilf.

Bottom half finish.

Brighton & Hove Albion. Graham Potter has done a marvellous job on the South Coast and flagged up his future potential as a top-flight manager. He keeps it simple and that is reflected on the pitch by his players. He has also pulled off a master stroke in signing Adam Lallana from Liverpool. The player who has signed a three year deal may be 33 but has so much class and ability, which was never truly appreciated by Liverpool fans, he could play well beyond that.

What Potter has signed in Adam is a player who is a game changer. A player who can implement any game plan the manager lays out before a team BUT if that doesn`t work he can change the dynamic of a game in an instant. He will be joined by triple Eredervisie Joel Veltman, from Ajax, an experienced defender who can play comfortably at full back or centre half.

I would expect, with another signing or two, Brighton can improve on 15th place next season.

West Ham United. Congratulations to the much maligned David Moyes for earning his big bonus for keeping West Ham in the top flight. However, there is still an underlying culture of mediocrity at the club which is going to end in relegation sooner rather than later.

If they sell Declan Rice, one of the main factors in their fight to avoid the drop, which is likely and Mikael Antonio, then it will be backs to the wall from Day 1. Antonio won Premier League Player of the Month for July and is starting to look like the top player he has always promised to be. Doubtful if he will be at the club too much longer as some really top clubs are circling.

West Ham will struggle to stay out of trouble.

Aston Villa, or should that be Jack Grealish FC, stayed up by the skin of their teeth. The biggest question in the Villa boardroom will be, after spending more than £100 million and fighting relegation all season, who do they trust to spend the money on players they need to avoid a repetition of the fight to avoid the trapdoor?

Their recruitment last time out was the worst I can recall in recent Premier League history. May I suggest to the Villa hierarchy – bring in Lee Hendrie. He will know what it takes to play for the Villa. Unless the club bring in much better players than their current lot it will be another fight against relegation. If they sell Jack, and I have a hunch he will stay at least another season, they are doomed.

Relegation candidates.

The thing that amazes me about Leeds United is, how do they cope with a coach, Marcelo Bielsa, who doesn`t speak English, not publicly anyway. How ever he gets his message across it does seem to work. Demonstrated no more successfully than the transformation he elicited from one of the most underachieving players in the last ten years of the Premier League, Patrick Bamford.

It was eight years ago aged 18, he made his debut in the Premier League and immediately impressed. I remember thinking he was the closest thing to Geoff Hurst since, well, Geoff Hurst.

Bamford is one of those rarities, a thinking centre forward. He should have been an England regular but instead has spent the last eight years bouncing from one club to another and a handful of loan spells, until Bielsa took him in hand. Now he is relishing another go at the Premier League where, in his own words, “ I was never really given a chance.”

I think Leeds are more than capable of breaking the mould of promoted clubs going straight back down and I reckon they will stay up.

West Bromwich Albion. They cut it a bit fine almost missing out on automatic promotion but edged over the line in the end. Slaven Bilic knows enough about the Premier League that despite having a wealth of Premier League experience in his squad; Gareth Barry, Jake Livermore, and Kieran Gibbs and Chris Brunt, for example, he will need some fresh, younger Premier League performers if they are to stay up.

If, as is expected at the moment, crowds are allowed back in October, the crowd at the Hawthorns will be a critical factor is retaining top flight status.

Safety, just

Fulham. Play-off winners and although the Final wasn’t gripping viewing the way Scott Parker set out his team to stifle Brentford most successfully augers well for the club ahead of the season. But there will have to be a massive recruitment over the next few weeks if Fulham are to stay up. Aleksandar Mitrovic is probably Fulham’s only Premier League quality player although the way full back Joe Bryan took his goals at Wembley may have elevated him to that level. With the money available at Craven Cottage there should be no shortage of funds but it is critical they buy the right players, ability and character, to keep Fulham up.

I see a struggle and a relegation fight ahead.

By Brian Beard, Associate Historian to the Football Association.

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